New form of religious life offers laity a Benedictine pathway | National Catholic Reporter

The Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pa., have launched what they describe as a lay monastic movement for seekers of God and a meaningful life, calling it “our gift to the next generation.”

Monasteries of the Heart: A New Movement for a New World” offers an opportunity for anyone — regardless, or even in the absence, of faith tradition — to live Benedictine spirituality and values with online communities or in face-to-face groups of family, friends, neighbors or fellow churchgoers, they said.

Members create their own “monastery” by supporting each other in shaping their spiritual lives around Benedictine values of community, prayer, meaningful work, peace and care of creation. They can gather around a table or in an online “monastery without walls” for prayer, discussion and reflection.

via New form of religious life offers laity a Benedictine pathway | National Catholic Reporter.

When our own online faith community began, there were many naysayers and skeptics. You can`t have a real community unless you gather face to face, they said. What you have is nice, but you really shouldn`t call yourself a community in the traditional sense.

The defense of online communities was a personal issue for me. I was an online student for many years. With five children, office responsibilities, and the geographical reality of rural life it was the only option for me to continue my studies. My blood boiled anytime someone insinuated that my courses and programs were of less quality than an in-class situation.

Whether online or in-person, the quality of learning depends on the instructor and the students. But, online discussion boards are a great equalizer compared to in-class discussions. Everyone has a chance to speak. In my classes, participation was compulsory and carried high expectations of critical reading and thinking. With online discussions, you have the chance to ponder before you speak – so words are chosen carefully. And if there is a verbose know-it-all, and there always is, you can quickly scroll through their pontificating rather than sit through a long-winded dissertation. The quality of discussion allowed for a more intimate interaction than is usually found in a large lecture hall.

The asynchronous nature of online discussion boards also allow participants to post or read on their own schedule. This is a major bonus in our over-scheduled, busy lives. It also allows us to communicate across many miles and cultures, regardless of time zones. An online faith community can have these same benefits of equality, inclusivity and intimacy.

According to some of the comments on the NCR article, Monasteries of the Heart already has its share of naysayers. Some question the orthodoxy of what the Sisters are doing. Sadly, they miss the point. A major goal of this project is to reach out to those who are hungering for spirituality, but are not finding it in traditional places. And this is what the Benedictine Sisters are offering. They are taking the centuries old tradition of Benedictine spirituality, wrapping it up in a new package, and offering it in the form of online or in-person monasteries. Members can gather around a kitchen table, or their computer screens. What a creative reading and responding to the signs of the times!

7 thoughts on “New form of religious life offers laity a Benedictine pathway | National Catholic Reporter

  1. Yea for the Benedictine sisters in Erie! What creativity in designing new ways to answer a need! Our Lady of the Round Table community is certainly an example that works like a “monastary of the heart.”

    What I hate most about the naysaying is that it has starts before the idea even has a chance to develop. How do we know “under what conditions” it might work or not work? How do we refine our understanding of what makes some “monasteries of the heart” thrive for a long time and others just never take root?

    The immediate skepticism and ridicule of the idea scares away those who are curious about the possibilities. And those who try out the idea become courageous souls who avoid any attention to their “experiment.” Thus, it takes us longer to learn the real “truth” about the matter.

    So much of political life in our church and our government is like this. It is discouraging!

  2. Hi Marceta,

    How true! I think the good Sisters are living the call to a New Evangelization….seeking new methods for new times. I think nay-saying often comes from insecurity, a fear that another way might be seen as better than the one I have chosen. We have to get beyond the one size fits all style mentality. And God bless those pioneers who seek out new paths!

    Thanks for your comments!

  3. For three years my wife and I were involved in an experimental form of religious life where we entered into community with two religious brothers who were professed members of a religious order. It started with the four of us praying together and faith sharing. Eventually we informed the religious order that we were a community, with two religious, and two lay members.

    We did not live under the same roof, but we were a real community in every way. The four of us tithed our income to pay tuition for an inner city child at a Catholic school. We prayed together weekly and joined a parish halfway between our houses and attended Sunday liturgy together. We shared our hopes and fears and became a real family. Our “mixed community” became a center for large group gatherings for lay communities in the area. We ministered together, facilitating parish retreats and missions.

    At first the religious order did not take us seriously, but when they asked to station another religious in the community, the two brothers stated that this would be possible only if all four members of the community gave their approval. The two brothers were immediately summoned by the provincial council and asked to explain their community. The provincial council did not disapprove of what we were doing, but wanted to know why they were not told about this mixed community from the beginning. The brothers stated that they feared the automatic response would have been “no”. Eventually my wife and I were even included in the order’s province wide assemblies and voted on issues and affecting the religious members.

    Last summer one of the religious brothers in this experimental community gave a presentation on “community” to the entire U.S. province of his order. He told this gathering of religious that his most profound experience of community in religious life was in this mixed community.

    I predict that the Erie Benedictines will find their experiment to be hugely beneficial to both lay and religious members. I just wish there was not so much distrust of women religious in the Church.

  4. It is an amazing modern and futuristic endeavor that the Erie Benedictines have undertaken. Ironically – I would have loved to have had some formal association with a certain Benedictine community over the past years – but have had the door firmly shut to me as I do not live close to the Benedictine community that I love and cherish. Just no to being in an Oblate program although they do like me to send money or to fly in half way across the country for a special celebration and to be able to spend time in prayer with them. For years it has and still does tear my heart apart, almost daily – the “rule” that because I do not live next door or within a few km or miles that I am not worthy of a closer and deeper association, although my friends who live close to the monastery at least can be Oblates. So I read the Rule of St. Benedict at breakfast and pray daily on my own and try to keep up with other readings and lectio divina while an Anglican priest. So bravo sisters of the Erie community for your move to inclusion rather than exclusion.

    1. Hi Sue!
      Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us. It sounds like the Monasteries of the Heart might be a perfect opportunity for you. I`m a firm believer that true community can be formed online, over-coming geographical limitations and joining souls on their spiritual journey.

      I, too, love Benedictine spirituality and spent a year in a monastery discerning a religious vocation. I agree that the good sisters of Erie are truly following the Spirit with this creative project.

      Are you an Anglican priest? How wonderful to meet you! I do hope you will join in more of our conversations.

      peace and blessings to you!

    2. Sue and Isabella,
      I’ve had the same experience. I’ve had three spiritual directors tell me to become an Oblate of St Benedict. I read the Rule and the Liturgy of the Hours, and study. My opinion is that the Erie, PA sisters are offering real hospitality. The on-line community, Monasteries of the Heart may be a door for me to enter and explore. Just a thought: Isn’t praying to God the original ‘on-line’ community?

      1. Hi Elizabeth! Thank you so much for your commenting. I absolutely love the line…Isn’t praying to God the original ‘on-line’ community?!!! What a wonderful thought! 🙂

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